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CN December 14 2017 Kurth/Ewing

When a Republican gets beaten in Alabama by a pro-choice Democrat, when Garry McCarthy may launch a mayoral run, when the #MeToo movement is proclaimed an “era” by the New York Times, and when thousands of women are lining up with their petitions to run for public office, well, that’s the time to call in our pundit friends  Sylvia Ewing and Kitty Kurth. There are lots of opinions to share.

“In the end,” says Ewing, “I would love to see this kind of discussion that we’re having about gender and this MeToo gender moment, I would really like to see that extend to race. That is the other big gorilla in the room. And we have countless stories that are like little paper cuts where, oh, this story shows there is discrimination in housing. This study shows in employment. This study shows in education, and it never reaches this Metoo moment.” “And, she adds, “We keep working at it.”

Kurth notes a trending sentiment among progressive Democrats – that it’s time to acknowledge where the party is today, and to stop looking back. “Are we going to stop trying to convince the disillusioned white guys to come back to the party,” she asks, “Or are we going to invest time and money getting more black people to the polls who actually come to the polls and vote, and where are we going to put our priorities?”

As an example, Kurth cites an event she did last week with Emily’s List, whose website says,”We ignite change by getting pro-choice Democratic women elected to office.”

“Last year,” she proclaims, ” they had 900 women call them about running for office and getting help running for office, this year 23,000. And just amongst my own friends, like my friends on Facebook, friends that I knew from high school, all of a sudden women, now they realize like okay, I’ve got some time and I’m going to make it worthwhile.”

It’s an uplifting, positive message on Chicago Newsroom this week, and we hope you’ll find a few minutes to watch or listen.

You can listen to the show here on Soundcloud.

You can read a CN transcript dec 14 2017 Kurth Ewing



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CN December 14 2017 Juan Perez, Jr.

The Trib’s Jennifer Smith Richards and Juan Perez, Jr have written a powerful two-part series on the plight of 17 neighborhood high schools that have all but emptied out over the past few years. Their report, titled Chicago’s Shrinking Schools, can be found at the Chicago Tribune site. The series asks, “can these Chicago High Schools Survive?”

Falling victim to city-wide enrollment declines and vastly increased options for different, often smaller, high school experiences, there are serious questions as to whether Chicago still needs, or can afford, these large, old buildings. But there are also questions about whether small high schools can support diverse course offerings and robust after-school and extracurricular activities.

Juan Perez, Jr returns to Chicago Newsroom for this discussion about their series.

“For starters,’ he says, “the high schools that we examined, we decided to limit our examinations straight up to neighborhood high schools,  those that have assigned boundaries that are open to anybody who lives within them, and frankly anybody else from anywhere else in the City… That allowed us to just get a sense right away of okay, this has been a perennial question with us, how well are they attracting students who live within their neighborhood boundaries?”

And, he continues, “How many of the students who live within their neighborhood boundaries are leaving? Those are two questions, and then the big one that we always wanted to answer was,  when they leave where do they go?”

It’s very important to understand that the emptying out of these historic schools isn’t because of the overall drop in enrollment citywide. Here’s what Perez, Jr and Smith Richards wrote in their Tribune series:

“It might be easy to assume that these high schools are shrinking because the surrounding neighborhoods are hollowing out. That’s not true. There were roughly 2,700 high school students living in Gage Park High School’s attendance boundary on the southwest side last year. CPS says the school can comfortably educate 1,100. There’s 330 there now. Most of the other eligible students enrolled in 153 other CPS high schools.”

Parents and students are voting with their feet, or, more realistically, with their cars and the CTA. They found lots of families enduring 2-hour commutes each way to get to another high school but often he new school isn’t that far away.

What’s driving this exodus? It might be a perception of safety or a special program, Perez, Jr explains. Or maybe the students were outright recruited. “You see high schools going into neighborhoods and trying to establish relationships with feeder elementary schools in this kind of Hunger Games kind of environment for students.”

“I mean just look at the trend lines for overall population within CPS over the course of the past ten years and a drop of 40,000 students,” he continues.  “And then think about how during the same period you’ve constructed or opened or just made available, new options, new programs and new options for families to choose from. I mean do the math, right? What results there?

Dr. Janice Jackson, the newly appointed CEO of the school system who was until this week the academic head, has made it clear that wherever she can find opportunities to expand choice for parents she will, according to Perez, Jr. “But again,” he wonders, “The big question is what do you do? There are consequences to this. And there are consequences that tend to affect black and brown children more than they do other children within the City of Chicago.”

Juan Perez, Jr tells us that CPS doesn’t seem to have a comprehensive plan for either saving or disposing of these neighborhood high schools, which range from Fenger on the far south side to Kelvyn Park on the northwest side.  He calls these schools “almost a spiritual embodiment of the idea that traditional neighborhood high school holds as, well, as it’s like your church, it’s like your bank, it’s like the grocery store. It’s an anchor of the neighborhood. At least that’s how it was traditionally conceivedHollowed out neighborhood high schools. It’s part of the social fabric and glue that brings it together. And yet, in the case of these 17 buildings we found that that concept has been completely turned around on its head.”

Of course, there is a plan – publicly announced – to close four high schools, all in the Englewood area, and replace hem with a new, $85 million high school to replace the soon-to-be demolished Robeson High. But the plan is under fire from local residents because the new school will open a least a year after the other schools close, with no clear plan for what to do with the displaced students during the construction period.

Added to that, the new CPS comprehensive application process rolls out this year for every student moving into high school. It will be what Perez, Jr calls  “a centralized repository to handle the dizzying array of applications that you had for selectives or whatever else. If you still want to attend your neighborhood school you will still be able to attend your neighborhood school, but I’m curious to see how those buildings will fare in all of this.”

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CN December 7 2017

Mayor Daley, excited by the prospects his 2016 Chicago Olympics only nine years away, wanted to make sure there were no city workers on strike during the festivities. So in 2007 he forged ten-year contracts with what amounted to 90% of the City’s workforce. In fact, those contracts became pretty much the only legacy of the 2016 Olympics, and the Emanuel administration now finds itself in the middle of complex negotiations with scores of unions, large and small.

On May 17, Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s office published a report that audited  each of the current collective bargaining agreements. The report pointed out places where outdated contractual provisions cost the city millions of dollars each year, and it called on the City’s negotiators to begin rolling back some of the most costly ones.

We begin with a highly-visible example, the Motor Truck Driver.  In many cases, these workers drive trucks and vehicles that require special licensing and cannot be driven by  regular citizens. But over the years the MTD’s responsibilities have shifted contractually.

“It’s not just that they are driving vehicles that other people can’t drive,” Ferguson explains. “They are driving regular vehicles that other people can drive, and that’s really where the essence of the savings identification came into play. There is a concept called traditional work that is embedded in each one of these trade’s contracts.”

“And traditional work says only these workers represented by this Union can do that work,” he continues. “So in the context of the motor truck drivers, and we don’t want to pick on the Teamsters, but it’s a low-hanging fruit situation, the scenario that we came across was a pick-up truck, a City driver, a teamster, sitting in the truck and reading the newspaper while a painter is painting a curb yellow, fire hydrant red, freshening up the paint. And we all see things like that every day. And what we see is a worker loafing, right?”

“And what we found was that Motor Truck Driver, that driver was doing exactly what he was supposed to do. He’s not allowed to get out of the truck and help the painter. The painter is not allowed to drive himself to the worksite. It’s enshrined in the contract in the notion of “traditional work”. Only members of the Painter’s Union can paint. Only members of the Teamsters can do the driving.”

Ferguson says his office compared this situation with the way the private sector handles the exact same scenario when the City hires private contractors for overflow situations. “And that’s where we saw an electrician, a painter could drive himself to a site and then do the work,” he explains. And this is no small financial matter.

“Two hundred motor truck drivers that the City doesn’t need to employ,” he asserts, “at a cost now of over $100,000 a year. Each. Meaning 20 to $25-million a year, a ten-year contract. Now you’re talking a quarter of a billion dollars, and that Olympics, the ten-year contracts we said that they exist nowhere else. They shouldn’t exist. It should be four-year cycles. The example that I like to give is that at the point in time that that contract all 37 of those trades contracts were approved by the City Council as ordinances in December of 2007, I-Phones didn’t exist. And so if you think about how much the world has changed, how much technology has changed, how much the way that we deliver services has changed over the course of ten years it’s extraordinary. We’ve tied our hands managerially to be able to innovate in the ways that allow us to deliver more for less.

And he concludes, “We’re in the fix that we are with our Union contracts because of simply an accretion of give-aways over time. Why? Because each round of negotiations starts from the existing contract and then we go from there. It’s costly to claw all this stuff back.”

And he draws a comparison between public and private-sector union contracts. “It looks to me like our public-sector unions conduct themselves in ways that private sector unions conduct themselves in this regard. The pot of money that’s available in the private sector – those are profits, and the objective is to get as much for the workers, your union members as you can, the greatest amount of profit, otherwise profit taking of the corporation.”

“We do a similar thing in the public sector,” he adds. “What seems to be missing is the public good, the public interest, because those aren’t profits. That’s taxpayer money. And so that we want more. If you want something from us you pay for it. What’s missing is actually the fiduciary duty that’s written into the City’s ethics ordinance that every worker has to the public, that’s not reflected in the outcomes of our Collective Bargaining Agreements. It’s just simply profit-taking behavior with taxpayer money and there needs to be some leavening of the public’s interests one, and some leavening of the notion that wherever the contract lands it should reflect the morality of the City. It should reflect good public policy and it should be sustainable. And that is sort of the big generational shift that we need to affect in this moment.”

One of the biggest drivers of budget excesses is the high level of compensatory time and overtime that’s accrued in some departments. Ferguson’s proud of the fact that his audits and reports help the City Council understand things in some very different ways.

“Inspectors General typically, their primary customer is the legislative branch engaging in active legislative oversight,” he begins. “And the Collective Bargaining Agreement Report was a moment where a lot of eyes were opened in the City Council, because here was this readily consumable product that allowed them to say, “Hey, wait a second. What’s going on here?”

“And at the time of our report there was about a $250-million sort of reserve obligation that the City had for comp time payouts, because a number of these Union contracts, the City is not in a position to limit the accretion, or the accumulation of comp time. And so it just builds and builds and builds, and it doesn’t get paid out on the basis of what your salary or wage was at the moment that you earned it. It gets paid out on the basis of the salary or the wage that you’re collecting when it gets paid out.”

But for many City workers, according to Ferguson, there are limits. “First of all, comp time needs to be approved and justified by the program managers and department heads, and there’s a limit on how much can accrue,” he explains. But when Ferguson released his report on police overtime a couple of months ago, it had immediate impact. “In the police realm there is no limit, and there really is no check on what it is that we’re actually doing there. You mentioned the City Council, it wasn’t just the Collective Bargaining Agreement Report, it was the CPD Overtime Report, where the scales fell off of the eyes and it was like wait a minute, what is going on here.”

“So, with respect to police overtime,” he tells us, “the issue there was controls, and sort of the integrity of the approval system. What we found there were tens of millions of dollars of either not properly approved, approved by peers rather than supervisors, reciprocal approvals, and that’s a pure administrative control issue, one. Two, 99% of the overtime that we looked at over a 2½-year period was missing justification or reason codes. So no one can look at exactly why, and when you see how much this actually costs us on an annual basis in Chicago the estimate is $170-million this year, approximately twice what was actually appropriated in the 2017 budget. It’s real money and it’s not just about money though; it’s about effective use of taxpayer resources, which if we tightened up those controls, it would probably mean that we have significant money sitting in our budget right now to pay for more officers to the extent that we need them. To pay for the reforms of the Police Department, which everyone is sort of fearing right now.

In conclusion, Ferguson says the job has exposed him to a certain truth about his adopted city. It seems we have a teensy love affair with Chicago’s crooked heritage. “We’re a little bit challenged culturally in our City in that we seem at some level in love with our narrative of corruption. It’s part of our history” he laments. “I didn’t grow up in Chicago, I grew up in Boston. Old machine-based northeast cities. The same sort of thing everywhere. We in Chicago, and I’ve been here for far more than half my life now and I’m no longer a young man, we love our narrative in ways that other cities don’t love that narrative, and that’s a distinguishing factor.”

So what stimulates a person to do this kind of work, that puts you at odds with big powerful people?  “It’s sort of a combination of maybe faulty genetic switches, and to some degree socialization. And for me it was a little bit of a midlife crisis and I couldn’t afford a red sportscar.”





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CN November 16 2017


Mayor Harold Washington died in office thirty years ago this Thanksgiving. It was November 25, 1987, and for those of us who knew him in some way we’ll always associate the day before Thanksgiving with his sudden death while seated at his desk at City Hall.

We called a group of Harold Washington veterans to our table this week to share some memories and look forward a little. We summoned  a lifelong friend and City Hall insider; a member of the City Council opposition; an Alderman elected to the Council during a special election that changed the council’s composition to give Washington the majority, and a journalist who covered Washington for local and national audiences.

Jacky Grimshaw became Washington’s director of Intergovernmental Affairs. She had known Washington most of her life, growing up in the 3rd Ward and attending church and political functions with him for years. “And so the professional relationship really began when he was running for the Illinois State Senate,” she tells us. “So from that election to the 1987 Mayoral Election I did the precinct coordination for every one of Harold Washington’s campaigns.”

Patrick O’Connor joined the City Council in 1983, the same year Washington was elected. But he was, in a way, an accidental Alderman. Ivan Rittenberg, the incumbent, was in the Jane Byrne camp. He was for Richard M. Daley. He ran, he tells us, mainly to “tie up” the Byrne forces so they’d have to spend time defending the Ward and they couldn’t go elsewhere to help Byrne.

Throughout the primary, all the attention was on Byrne and Daley. Little attention was paid to the black candidate despite his huge voter registration drive.  In the end, O’Connor found himself in a runoff with the incumbent Alderman and he won in the April General election. Washington won the primary, of course, but he then found himself in vicious general election with a Republican who ran a racially-tinged campaign. O’Connor tells us that, ironically, Harold Washington helped him win the Ward.

“I think that the folks that were working for the incumbent alderman made a significant mistake,” he explains, “because they jumped into the mayoral thinking that that was also going to sweep them in and actually I think what it did is that as the race took on a tone and a tenor it was really quite ugly in a lot of ways. People began to look and say, “I don’t want to be part of that.”

In the Council, O’Connor joined the opposition, but says he kept an open mind when it came to working with the Mayor on Ward issues. “While we were divided in terms of ultimate votes we tended to work together on things that we thought were important,” he tells us. “I voted for every one of Harold’s budgets, so you can say that I was part of the opposition getting to a budget, but when a budget passed I voted for those budgets. Now, that’s not to say that Harold and his administration didn’t work hard to get those votes, and it’s not to say that I didn’t extract everything I could from them in order to vote for.”

Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, Rahm Emanuel’s opponent in the most recent Mayoral race, came into the Council after a special election ordered by a federal court. A coalition of community leaders had challenged the 1981 Ward re-map, arguing that it diminished black and Hispanic representation in at least seven wards. After months of negotiation, Judge Charles Norgle approved a new Ward map and ordered the 1986 special election. The election changed the racial makeup of the Council, probably forever, and awarded Washington a tied Council, 25-25. But the Mayor’s tie-breaking vote gave him control for the first time.

“It was a fantastic experience,” recalls Garcia. “It was finally having an opportunity to govern more normally, and to finally enable the Mayor to get a grasp on the reins of government in Chicago and make the appointments to boards and commissions, and finally have the engine humming along and moving Chicago forward, so it was a great time.”

Washington, however, would live only a little more than a year after the victory.

Cheryl Corley, now a Chicago and Midwest correspondent for NPR, was at the time WBEZ’s City Hall reporter. She recalls that, in addition to Washington’s challenges in the City Council, he also faced constant challenges among his friends.

“He also had to coalesce people in the black community, because there was a lot of separation there as well,” Corley says. “And so he was pretty adept at being able to do that, because you have black nationalists who supported him and who were very instrumental in getting things happening, and black religious leaders and black politicians as well. So it was kind of the combination of a lot of folks from the civil rights movement, the nationalist movement and regular electoral politics all coming together in this one guy who was able to make that happen.”

Convincing Harold Washington to run wasn’t easy, according to Grimshaw.

“Harold would tell me all the time that he was congressman for life,” she remembers. “He knew that the first congressional district would elect him. That he just had to make sure he just stayed true to his principles and the promises he made and he would never have to worry. So when all the drafting was going on – who is going to be the black candidate, and they finally said, “Harold,” and Harold kept saying no. And I would talk to him on a regular basis and he said, “No, I don’t want to do that.”

He did eventually agree to meet with the organizers, but he laid out some demands including cash commitments and voter registration.

“And of course the folks were intent, so they got the black business folks together. They committed $250,000 I think was the amount of money. The other thing was that he wanted 50,000 new registrants. Well, it ended up being more like 200,000 registrants,” concludes Grimshaw.

Once in office,Harold Washington liked to say “I’m gonna be your mayor for the next 20 years.” We ask our guests to speculate. If Washington had been a twenty-year Mayor, what might he have accomplished? How would Chicago be different if Washington, rather than Richard M. Daley, had been mayor through the 90’s and into the oughts?

Corley says by the time of his death even communities that didn’t vote for him and had opposed him were beginning to recognize his desire for equity. A recognition, she says, “that he is responsive, and that he wants to bring a City that has been separate and divided for such a long time together and find common ground…But Harold also reaches out to groups that had been largely invisible, that didn’t have political clout like the LGBTQ community, the Arab community, the Muslim community.”


“I think there would have been a greater emphasis on getting at the concentration of poverty in Chicago, especially on the west and south sides,” she continues. “I think he would have been a much stronger spokesperson on the question of replacing the demolished housing, public housing that occurred in Chicago, and lastly, on the question of crime and the violence that those conditions have bred in Chicago, he was keenly aware of problems in the Police Department as it relates to police brutality and violations that occurred historically in certain parts of the City. So I think that would have been addressed in a different manner, because remember Harold Washington broke with the regular Democratic organization over the issue of police abuse, police brutality in the black community. So the consciousness of those daily realities of people probably would have led to different strategies being deployed.”

“I think he was one of the first Mayors to basically say, “I’m going to be responsible for the education of our children,” and that’s something that I think has carried through the Mayors currently,” O’Connor tells us. “I mean I don’t know a city that’s more invested in the public education than the City of Chicago right now. But I will say this, Chicago is a better City today for having had Harold Washington become the Mayor. I don’t think that there is any doubt that that’s true.”

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CN Nov 9 2017 Bettina Chang and Darryl Holliday


Rest in peace, DNAInfo Chicago.

Chicago without the late, great DNAinfo just doesn’t seem the same.

They enterprised unexpected neighborhood stories that nobody else in this town was covering.  They reported on fun happenings like bar and restaurant openings. And let’s not forget, they were no slouches at investigative reporting either. Stories like this one, for example: Alderman Profited Off the 606- But That Doesn’t Mean He Wants You To …

As we info-junkies mourn the loss of that incessant newsfeed from our favorite neighborhoods, we talk with two former DNAinfo staffers who went on to create their own local news operation on the south side.

Bettina Chang and Darryl Holliday are co-founders of the City Bureau. It doesn’t have its own billionaire, so there aren’t as many paid staff and it doesn’t generate as much content as DNA did. But its non-profit mix of memberships, donations and philanthropy has generated  a loyal and sustainable, if smaller, economic base.

“They brought me on to do breaking news,” Chang remembers, “to be a breaking news editor, so I worked 2 to 10 at night, and I was there as sort of the backstop on a lot of the stories that were left over from the day before getting them ready for the next morning. And because of that I was so lucky to be able to interact with a huge variety of the reporters. Most of the reporters there reported specifically to one editor, except for at night when it was just me in the office by myself hanging out with the cleaning lady.”

“I began at DNAinfo in 2012,” saysHolliday. “I was among the first batch of reporters. Actually before it even launched we were working on the murder timeline, which was the first big project designed to cover directly and intentionally every homicide in the City. So I began my career in journalism in that sort of City News Bureau where I was at the morgue every night, at 3 in the morning.”

When Chang and Holliday founded City Bureau, they insisted on a key difference. It was their devotion to training reporters and “documenters” from their own community.

“We could be bigger with more and better funding,” Holliday explains, “but we’re really focused on getting people, the everyday person to care about journalism and to make it so we don’t have to rely on foundations or the Joe Ricketts of the world and we can be accountable to you or to you, to all of us, and we build the media.”

“We run three year-around programs,” he adds. “One is the reporting fellowship where we bring what we call emerging journalists together with more experienced reporters. They work collaboratively, and that content gets produced across various media outlets locally and nationally. Our public newsroom, we open up our physical newsroom space in Woodlawn, once a week Thursdays from 6 to 8 and bring in community members, activists, journalists, academics, to talk about what is new and interesting in their work and their lives and share that, hands-on skill-sharing. Those conversations they are I think cathartic for some people. Some people are not used to having journalists come and say, “Really, what do you want to talk about? What do we need?…So that’s every single week, consistent. And the last program is our documenters program where we pay and train people, anyone to go out and document public meetings, so think the Chicago Police Board and City Council. We have a live feed sometimes. We have them fill out meeting templates so we know who is there, what were they talking about, what are the issues that were raised.”

Chang says she’s been heartened by the community repose in these first two years.

“You know it’s always a guided workshop,” she tells us. “We bring in somebody to lead it, and you can come based on your interest. We had one a while ago about using videogames to tell stories, and that tended to attract more people who are interested in games. Or, we had Tanika Johnson, a photographer from Englewood to talk about what does it mean to tell the story of your neighborhood. And so we got a lot of people who are interested in that issue. And so it’s very cross-generational. We had people who are 16 up to about 80 coming in.”

Now in its third year, and with the stunning demise of DNA, City Bureau’s founding principles and funding models will be put to an even more stringent test.

“If you can make the case right,” Holliday insists, “like what is the value proposition? I mean when you see DNA disappear, I think venues say, “Whoa, this can just go away? How do we make it so it can’t?”

This young organization is convinced that it can find and train young journalists and build a community-level news shop that will endure.

You can listen to this program on SoundCloud here.

And you can read full transcript of the discussion here:CN transcript Nov 9 2017 Chang and Holliday


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CN Nov 9 2017 Jeremy Gorner

The City of Chicago and the University of Chicago recently released their Gun Trace report, an exhaustive study of about 21,000 guns the Chicago Police confiscated from our streets in hotel past three years. They were able to trace about 15,000 of them to their original purchasers, and, to probably no-one’s surprise, 95% of the guns were not in the hands of the original, legal purchasers.

Jeremy Gorner was part of the Tribune’s writing team that examined the report and write the Trib’s story. They concluded that a key finding of the Trace report was that forty percent of the recovered guns were first purchased right here in Illinois. And of those guns, the vast majority were purchased in a handful of gun shops close to Chicago’s borders. They’re in suburbs like Lyons, Lincolnwood, Riverdale and Melrose Park. And one gun shop, Suburban Sporting Goods, has the lowest “time to crime”  of all. That refers to the time between the purchase and when its used on the street in a crime.

In fact, Gorner tells us it was “the lowest I believe in the top ten here…and I spoke to them about that finding, and what they basically were saying was that look, they don’t do anything different they say than any other gun shops in the area. They sell to people who have a right to buy them. What happens outside of the store is really out of their control.”

The store is a completely legal business, licensed by the federal government. And they do have, Gorner says, surveillance cameras and a wall separating the product from the entrance door. The only way onto the sales floor is with the display of your FOID card. But their sales have increased dramatically because of changes in America’s political climate.

“You know the Conceal Carry Law in Illinois passed I believe in 2014, so you have more people who want to come and buy guns now that they can buy them,” Gorner adds. “And that’s the thing though, is there’s been a lot of resistance. Chicago had that handgun ban up until around 2010, and there’s been resistance to have a gun shop being open in Chicago, so now they have to go to the suburbs, and with the Conceal Carry Law they can go to the suburbs, buy guns at places like Suburban Sporting Goods.”

And let’s not forget the “Obama effect.”

“There was a lot of fear among the pro-gun rights advocates that the democrats would enact stricter legislation. So all these factors came into play according to them as to why sales went up and why more of their guns were seen on the street. Now the other thing about this particular gun shop is that Melrose Park is five to ten miles from the west side of Chicago. If you look at the maps of where these guns are ending up a lot of… the guns are ending up on the west side. So here’s Suburban Sporting Goods. Look how close it is to the west side. And unfortunately, a lot of the shootings, a lot of the gun violence is concentrated in the Harrison patrol district and the Austin patrol district on the west side”

The Gun Trace report does confirm that the majority – 60% – of crime guns are brought into Chicago from nearby states, primarily Indiana. And many of those Indiana guns come from licensed stores, too – such as Cabelas, which appears to be the biggest single source in the state.

As an interesting side note, the ATF complained about the report, claiming that the city had used the data in an “unlawful” way, because of federal laws restricting research into the tracing of gun ownership.

You can listen to this program on SoundCloud.

And you can read full transcript of the program HERE:CN transcript November 9 2017

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CN November 2 2017

Jessica Droeger and Jeff Radue join us this week. They’re both organizers with Indivisible Chicago, a group that was formed as part of the national mobilization against the Trump presidency.

We discuss a wide range of issues, but our main focus is CrossCheck, the national effort promoted by the White House to identify specifics of voter fraud across the country. Donald Trump claimed after his election that he had, in fact, won the popular vote despite official tallies showing him millions of votes behind Hilary Clinton. But his unsubstantiated claim that he was victimized by millions of fraudulent votes led to his major effort to identify a variety of illegal voting practices, a campaign his critics claim is a thinly-veiled attempt to suppress opposition voting.

“We started our activism with regards to CrossCheck following the letter from Secretary of State of Kansas, Kris Kobach, who was also the vice chair of the Commission of Election Integrity, Radue tells us. “He issued a letter to all 50 states asking that they all submit their voter registration information in their entirety to the Commission for statistical analysis and review and public dissemination. And this was something that troubled our team almost immediately.”

“I mean he has been in the voter suppression business for a long time,” Droeger adds. “He also helped write the Show Me Your Papers law in Arizona where anybody who looked like they might be illegal could be asked for their papers, which smacks of authoritarian regimes, and that was before Trump was even President…So as soon as Trump won Kobach ran immediately to Trump Tower and met with him and told him all this stuff about how there were illegals voting, and right after that is when Trump tweeted about his actual win of the popular vote. And Kobach, we found out recently he tried to hide these documents, but he has been trying to amend the National Voter Registration Act to allow states to require passports or other proofs of citizenship in order for people to register to vote. And that’s something he’s denied, but some courts released the documents, so he’s been in this for a long time and CrossCheck has just been part of it that he’s trying to hold up as an example of what we could do nationally, which is problematic, because as we can tell you it’s a really bad program.”

CrossCheck is plagued with digital security issues, they tell us, that have compromised voters’ personal data, such as name, address, birth date, and partial Social Security numbers. And Illinois has been in the program since 2010.

“I think that we’ve seen following the 2016 election hacking email servers, hacking voter registration servers isn’t out of the realm of possibility for folks that have the tools and the skillset to be able to do something like that, Radue explains. “And the Illinois election officials and CrossCheck election officials have not been using best business practices to protect our voter registration information.”

At this point, Indivisible Chicago is trying to  organize to stop Illinois from sending another batch of data on January 15. “Where we are now is pushing more of the legislative pressure angle. We’ve got over 40 members of the state legislature that have either signed on to a letter or issued a letter of their own to the State Board of Elections demanding that they discontinue their partnership in CrossCheck. On Thursday of last week Senator Durbin and Senator Duckworth joined us by issuing a letter to the State Board of Elections laying out their argument quite succinctly and urging the Board to discontinue its partnership. We’ve had Congressman Gutierrez, Congresswoman Schakowsky join us, and Congressman Quigley has issued a statement on this as well. So we’re working to put pressure on them through our legislators.”

There are now several thousand active Indivisible organizations around the United States similar to the Chicago chapter. Both Droeger and Radue tell us they’d never been politically involved before, and they are really pleased with their new-found activism. But they acknowledge the irony of the role Donald Trump played in triggering it.

“So there’s an argument that can be made,” Radue says, “that the Trump election is the greatest thing that could have happened to the Democratic Party and to social activism in our country. There was this revitalization that happened. Certainly if Hillary Clinton had been elected I don’t think that you would have seen a group like Indivisible actually in existence. They wouldn’t be in existence without this dynamic shift in our culture and our politics in this country. So while I’m certainly struggling with the Trump administration and the GOP agenda, I am heartened by the work that we’ve been able to do within our group to take an active role in our country.”

You can listen to the conversation on SoundCloud here.

And you can read a full transcript HERE: CN transcript November 2 2017

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CN October 26 2017


Today on Chicago Newsroom Guest Host Kitty Kurth is joined by two guests who know an awful lot about gun violence and present some interesting and innovative ways to address the scourge that it has become. Kathleen Sances from GPAC Gun Violence Prevention PAC talks about legislation in the Illinois legislature which if enacted would save lives in Chicago, and throughout the State of Illinois. Also joining Kitty is Oscar, Grammy and Golden Globe winning songwriter and “artivist” Che Rhymefest Smith, a well-known figure on the Chicago scene, who’s the Creative Director of Donda’s House and who has been working for years trying to prevent all types of violence.

You can listen to this discussion on SoundCloud here.

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CN October 19 2017


Kitty Kurth hosts Chicago Newsroom this week. Kitty talks current affairs with two of her all-time favorite pundits. Guests Sylvia Ewing and Joanna Klonsky cover a wide range of topics from what they provocatively describe as a “non-old white guy perspective”. They tackle the news of the day and also discuss how the media tackles the news. Both guests have long resumes which include political, social, and community activism and organizing in Chicago and beyond.

You can listen to the discussion here on SoundCloud.

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CN October 12 2017


5150 N. Northwest Highway was dealt significant blow this week as Mayor Emanuel refused to grant City tax credits that would have helped the affordable housing development get of the ground.

The 100-unit building that would house seniors, veterans and CHA voucher-holders has been a flash-point of controversy on the Northwest side since its announcement earlier this year. And whether or not the building ever replaces a vacant warehouse structure at the junction of Northwest highway and Milwaukee Avenue, it ignited a dramatic debate in Jefferson Park.


“It’s a chance to activate the gateway to Jefferson Park.,” explains Sara Gronkiewicz-Doran, a representative of Neighbors for Affordable Housing in Jefferson Park, an activist group formed to advocate for the building. “It’s a chance to take space that is otherwise a passthrough and fill it with families and people walking to the transit station at all hours of the day and night, people walking their kids to school, people walking to the school, people driving. You know, it is a way to bring that area otherwise isolated by its history of use and location into the rest of the neighborhood. It’s a great site.”

Many people in the 45th Ward disagree, some strongly. Thousands have signed a petition opposing the structure. There was a loud, contentious meeting in February at a local church that raised objections that were thought by many observers to be racial in nature, along with objections about density.

“I came as somebody who was interested in supporting a project like this,” says organizer Nick Kryczka, “But I and a few other people who were there were vastly outnumbered by those who had come up to show their opposition. And it was that night that that opposition was revealing itself to be really unfriendly in a particular way, like not just to people who were disagreeing with them like I was, but declaring that exclusion should be the policy of the neighborhood. I think the longer arc of the story is that in fact the reality is the reverse, that the vast majority of people who live in Jefferson Park don’t have a problem with the idea of affordable housing in our community.”

The Neighbors for Affordable Housing in Jeff Park group was formed primarily as a reaction to that meeting, they tell us, and they’ve begun passing a petition of their own that’s already garnered about a thousand signatures.

“I would say a large percentage of the people whose doors we knock on haven’t heard about this, Gronkiewicz-Doran continues.  “They haven’t heard about this particular building. They haven’t heard about, they are not aware of , the larger affordable housing crisis, but what they are aware of is – my kid got a divorce and had to move back in with me because he can’t afford an apartment in the neighborhood. My elderly parent can’t get up the stairs to her bungalow anymore and she’s going to have to move out to the suburbs. You know this is an issue that touches a lot of people, and when they are able to make the connection between their own circumstances and the greater need for relief people are much more reasonable about it.”

On this week’s show we talk about the fight for affordable housing in Jefferson Park in context with yesterday’s passage in the City Council of  an affordable housing ordinance. It would mandate the construction of “affordable” units within new larger developments in two white-hot real estate markets on the near northwest and near-west sides.  In these areas, gentrification is a major issue for affordable-housing advocates, because they argue that large numbers of poorer tenants and property-owners are being forced out as development changes the faces of these neighborhoods.

And as developers – and city policy – favor the construction of large buildings with one-bedroom or studio apartments, there’s less and less space for families, and that bothers Gronkiewicz-Doran. “We’re going to get a bunch of affordable one bedrooms and studios, which is great, but there’s no incentive for family development and there’s no carrot or stick to encourage family development,” she explains.

So, although the affordable-housing battles in Jefferson Park and, say, the West Loop are very different, Kryczka says it’s time for the Northwest to get in the game.

“Our view is the fight for affordable housing can’t only happen in areas that are already under rapid gentrification, he asserts. “Because you’re really fighting uphill. So in this way when you were describing that general field of the northwest side’s conservative attitudes, like there is a certain part of that conservatism that actually we identify with, which is what we want to conserve is the mixed income stable and affordable character of the neighborhood. So if you go to a typical block in Jefferson Park or Portage Park nowadays you’re going to find a variety of people, a variety of income levels. You’re going to find one-bedroom, two-bedroom apartments and two-flats and courtyard buildings and then bungalows as well. And that character, there’s a stability to that, if you look back over certainly the recent past that has kept rents stable. But we are right now in the midst of this fight against kind of a 20th Century problem which is angry homeowners who don’t want public housing tenants or what have you moving into their neighborhood. It has a very 1966 kind of a tone to it. But, there’s also the 21st Century problem which is the problem of displacement and the problem of rapid gentrification.”

The future of 5150 is unclear, although its prospects are dimmer now than in the past. But  the Neighbors group says it will continue to fight for the building, and for affordable housing in the area. “Our organization is going to hold our alderman and the aldermen of the City who make noises about supporting affordable housing responsible,” declares Gronkiewicz-Doran. “And it’s not just the two of us. Our organization is growing every day. We had over 1,000 signatures on a petition in support of this building. We’ve door-knocked and talked to hundreds of our neighbors who think that our neighborhood needs more affordable housing.”

You can listen to the audio of this show on SoundCloud here.

You can read a full transcript of this show here: CN transcript Oct 12 2017

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